In 1990, the then Prime Minister John Major talked of creating a truly ‘classless society’. Thirty years later, Boris Johnson’s government continue to raise the issue in parliament. We may have seen social mobility initiatives across government and business but the question remains – does social mobility exist in the UK?

Join us for a discussion of this and the barriers preventing the delivery of a society based on meritocracy. The discussion will be led by General Secretary of the Free Speech Union and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Rise and Fall of the Meritocracy, Toby Young, Professor Kate Pickett, the co-founder of the Equality Trust, and Alan Lane, the Artistic Director of Slung Low – a Leeds theatre company based in the oldest Working Men’s Club in Britain, housing a running theatre, a college and food bank.

About The Academic

Headshot of Professor Kate Pickett

Kate Pickett

Kate Pickett is Professor of Epidemiology, Deputy Director of the Centre for Future Health, and Associate Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity, all at the University of York.  Kate is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, of the UK Faculty of Public Health and the British Academy of Social Sciences. She is co-author, with Richard Wilkinson, of the worldwide best-selling The Spirit Level (2009) and The Inner Level (2018). The Spirit Level was awarded Publication of the Year by the Political Studies Association, chosen as one of the Top Ten Books of the Decade by the New Statesman, and one of the top 100 books of the century by the Guardian. She is a co-founder and patron of The Equality Trust.  Kate is a social epidemiologist with a focus on the social determinants of health and health inequalities and works closely with the Born in Bradford study. 

About The Speaker

Toby Young Headshot

Toby Young

Toby Young is the General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, a non-partisan, mass membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members. He co-founded the West London Free School in 2011, the first free school to sign a funding agreement with the British government, and is the author of How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2001), a best-selling memoir about his experiences as a glossy magazine editor in New York that was turned into a film starring Simon Pegg. He is an associate editor of the Spectator, where he’s written a weekly column since 1998. Most recently, he set up a blog called the Daily Sceptic.


Black and White Photo of Alan Lane

Alan Lane

Alan Lane is Artistic Director of Slung Low, an award-winning theatre company based in the oldest surviving working men’s club in the UK. Slung Low specialise in making large scale productions in non-theatre spaces with community performers at their heart. During the Covid crisis, the company was the ward lead for social care referrals in Holbeck and Beeston, nearly 8000 homes in South Leeds. They ran a non-means tested self-referral food bank from March 2020 to June 2021. Lane was awarded a British Empire Medal for services to South Leeds during the crisis.